Big East NCAA Tournament Capsules: Louisville CardinalsPosted by Will Tucker on March 21st, 2013
Louisville notched wins against Memphis, Missouri and Kentucky in their nonconference schedule, and their only blemish before New Year’s Day came against Duke in the Bahamas with an injured Gorgui Dieng on the bench. After dropping three straight losses in Big East play, the Cardinals won their last 10 games through the Big East Tournament, going 6-1 against the league’s top six teams since their January loss to Georgetown.
Seed: No. 1
Record: 29-5 (14-4 Big East)
Matchup: v. North Carolina A&T in Lexington
Key Player: Gorgui Dieng erases mistakes on the defensive end and facilitates the offense in the half court when opponents key on Louisville’s guards. He’s one of very few Cardinals who didn’t play out of his mind in the Big East Tournament, and he’s the player Rick Pitino can least afford to have struggle in the Big Dance. His unique skillset makes him as much, if not more, indispensible than Peyton Siva and Russ Smith. Dieng’s defense is almost always a known quantity, but it’s when he is forcing tightly packed defenses to respect his jump shot that Dieng makes Louisville’s set offense dynamic enough to sustain itself.
Key Stat: Much has been made of Louisville’s dependence on generating turnovers. They are second in the country at 18.7 TOs forced per game, and they turn opponents over on more than a quarter of possessions (also #2 nationally, again behind VCU). But over the course of the season, Louisville has also fashioned itself into a very efficient half court defense: their 38.8% defensive field goal rate is top-20 and much improved from earlier in the year. As he’s eased into the rotation, Kevin Ware’s length on the perimeter has helped eliminate open looks from three, and Gorgui Dieng’s return to health filled a defensive vacuum around the rim. When Louisville plays sound half court defense, they can win without forcing a ton of turnovers.
Best-Case Scenario: The efficient scoring Gorgui Dieng showcased at the end of the regular season returns as the junior big man gains his sea legs against North Carolina A&T’s undersized front court, where Austin Witter (6’8, 195 pounds) and Bruce Beckford (6’7, 215 pounds) will be tasked with containing him. The Cardinals draw a rematch with Missouri––this time with Laurence Bowers in the line up––and turn Phil Pressey over 8 times again en route to the Sweet Sixteen. Surviving Saint Louis, the fashionable pick to upset Rick Pitino’s team, might provide the mental catharsis necessary for them to play loose the rest of the way.
Worst-Case Scenario: The Cards blow out North Carolina A&T and fall prey to complacency when they see brand name Missouri eliminated by Colorado St. The Rams, top five nationally on the boards, bury Louisville in a flurry of offensive rebounds as Colton Iverson performs his best Kenneth Faried impression and shocks the top-seeded Cardinals before they get out of Kentucky.